By Khalida Sarwari
It may have seemed a little out of place, but Van Meter Elementary School was the backdrop for pirouettes and demi-plies last week, but without the fancy tutus and pointe shoes.
Dressed in T-shirts, jeans, shorts and leggings, Ingrid O’Donoghue’s class held their own against professional dancers from the Los Gatos Ballet, who stopped by to teach the second-graders about ballet stretching, technique and choreography, as well as how to appreciate the dance form.
Their teacher said she couldn’t have been more thrilled to see the students get excited and amazed “by the fact that professional athletes use the exercises in ballet to strengthen and enhance their abilities in other sports.”
“I think it is an excellent way to introduce all students to the fun, challenge and history of ballet, an activity that many may not have the benefit to experience, both as an option of a sport or exposure to a performing art,” said O’Donoghue.
Led by dancers Cindy Huang and Raul Salamanca, students spent the week practicing variations from “The Nutcracker.” The combined dancing experience of Huang and Salamanca made them a formidable pair of teachers. Huang has danced professionally with the Miami City Ballet and performed as a guest artist with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, while Salamanca has danced with Ballet Arizona, Boston Ballet, Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and Ballet San Antonio.
“I really appreciated the professionalism of the instructors,” O’Donoghue said, adding that the dancers “were very capable handling a group of children. They shared their love of their profession and it came across to the students.”
She added, “Many dads emailed me after the first session saying how much their sons and daughters were talking about ballet.”
The classes were part of a six-week outreach program titled Leaps and Bounds, which seeks to offer professional dance instruction in schools to instill in students a love for dance. Sponsored by the Los Gatos Ballet Foundation, the program is available to local underserved schools and is spearheaded by Alison Ahmed, who created the program in 2008 after she was inspired by her daughter’s participation in dance classes at Los Gatos Ballet.
O’Donoghue said she was able to see firsthand the advantages of dance to her students.
“Instruction in the arts provides children with freedom of expression within a structured and focused environment that they do not get in other types of activities,” she said. “I enjoyed watching as each one figured out what it was they were doing and how it fit into the whole piece.”
The Los Gatos Ballet is known regionally for its production of “The Nutcracker” at Cupertino’s Flint Center. The company also stages a full-length ballet each spring at West Valley College in Saratoga. For more information, visit LosGatosBallet.org.